This weekend, my whole Saturday was pretty much devoted to reading “Revolutionary Suicide,” the autobiography of Huey P. Newton, founder and leader of the Black Panther Party. I won’t lie, I had to read it for a class, but I was rather excited to read it nonetheless.
After about 50 pages I had to hit the head and relieve myself of the three cups of coffee I had consumed since waking up.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized I was wearing my Public Enemy T-shirt with the cover of their seminal album, “Fear of a Black Planet.”
I smiled a little at the image of me in my room with a Huey Newton autobiography in my hand and a Public Enemy shirt on my back, just like a young white leftist would.
But as I stared at the words “Fear of a Black Planet,” I remembered a profound moment I had experienced in that shirt.
A 30-something white man, a friend of a friend of my mom’s or something, once inquired about the shirt.
He asked why I would wear it at all. He was not upset; rather, he seemed genuinely curious and obviously unfamiliar with Public Enemy.
I could have offered a simple explanation, but I decided instead to give him something loftier.
“Because wearing it made you ask me about it.”
Public Enemy was quite influential in my own education.
In fact, music gave me exposure to things most people never learn about. It started with punk rock and has expanded exponentially with my interest in hip-hop.
The Clash’s song “White Riot” pointed out to a young me that, “Black man got a lot of problems, but they don’t mind throwing a brick. White people go to school, where they teach you how to be thick.”
It made me wonder why the black man threw a brick and why I was being encouraged to do the same.
In my school I was never taught more than a brief segment each February on Martin Luther King Jr., likely because he is the easiest civil rights leader for white children to digest without fear.
White guilt is something that would rather be avoided than dealt with and understood rationally, so children who eventually do find out some of history’s less-convenient truths either deny them, look for more acceptable versions or experience a radical mind expansion.
People fear what they do not understand. It is an axiom that allows this world to continue on its path of xenophobia, culture clashes, religious disputes, colonialism and terrorism.
But these ideas are only taught to those who seek them out.
Punk rock taught me a lot. Hip-hop taught me just as much. What they taught me was not the facts, but rather to go find the facts because they were out there, just not conveyed very well in mainstream society. I was taught to educate myself.
I first heard of one-time Panther and death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal from Anti-Flag. Leftover Crack has a song about the MOVE Nine. I learned about South African anti-apartheid figure Steve Biko from A Tribe Called Quest and about “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the CIA-backed crack king, from Bay Area hip-hop duo The Coup.
And then I went and looked further, just for myself.
The Black Panther Party stood on its 10 points, among them being decent housing, an end to police brutality and, above all, freedom. Without waxing political, I think we can agree that those sound reasonable.
But to many lacking understanding, the Panthers were a radical gang of thugs led by a cop killer who wanted little more than to kill white people.
Never mind that the party worked with whites and even saw the formation of a group known as the White Panthers.
Even Hunter S. Thompson, in what is regarded as his first piece of Gonzo journalism, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” instigated fear in some Southern dandy by telling him the Panthers were planning to shoot the Derby up, and the man rather amusingly broke out in a panicky sweat.
Education is the key. The educational system today is set up to detour us from some of the most important historical observations. This is not left or right politics but common sense. If people understood the intricacies of political situations and cultures and the relations of the world’s people throughout modern history, then perhaps a fear of a black planet would be the least of the world’s concerns.
Nick Baker is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]